Ukraine join Poland and Georgia in qualifying for Euro 2024

Ukraine’s forward #09 Roman Yaremchuk and Iceland’s defender #18 Daniel Leo Gretarsson vie for the ball during the Uefa’s Euro 2024 qualification final play off football match between Ukraine and Iceland, in Wroclaw, Poland, on March 26, 2024. AFP

Ukraine came from behind to beat Iceland in a play-off to qualify for Euro 2024 on Tuesday, while Poland secured their place at the finals with a penalty shoot-out victory over Wales and Georgia qualified for a first ever major tournament.

The Ukrainians were aiming to qualify for a first tournament since the Russian invasion of the country two years ago, and they did so by coming from behind to defeat Iceland 2-1 in a game played in the Polish city of Wroclaw.

Albert Gudmundsson silenced the crowd in a city with a large Ukrainian refugee population as he fired Iceland into the lead on the half-hour mark.

Iceland, with a population under 400,000, were hoping to return to the finals of a competition in which they reached the quarter-finals in 2016.

However, Euro 2020 quarter-finalists Ukraine equalised nine minutes after half-time thanks to a superbly taken goal by Viktor Tsygankov of Spanish side Girona.

Extra time was looming when Ukraine grabbed the winner with six minutes left as Chelsea’s Mykhailo Mudryk swept home a first-time shot from the edge of the area.

“Thank you, guys! Thank you, team! For significant emotions for the entire country. For the important victory and making it to EURO. For proving once again: whenever Ukrainians face difficulties but do not give up and continue to fight, Ukrainians certainly win,” Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, wrote on X.

Having narrowly missed out to Italy in their qualifying group and being forced into the play-offs, Ukraine can now look forward to the European Championship which begins in Germany on June 14.

They will go into Group E alongside Belgium, Slovakia and Romania and will have ambitions of progressing to the last 16.

Agony for Wales and Greece

Poland go into a difficult Group D at the Euro along with France, the Netherlands and Austria after getting the better of Wales in a tense shoot-out at the end of their play-off final in Cardiff.

The match ended 0-0 after 90 minutes and there were no goals either in extra time, which ended with Wales having Chris Mepham sent off for a second booking.

A high-quality shoot-out, which began with Robert Lewandowski converting Poland’s first kick, saw nine successful penalties before Daniel James had his effort saved and Wales lost 5-4.

There will be no third consecutive European Championship for the Welsh team, who were semi-finalists in 2016, but Poland will be present at a fifth continental finals in a row.

“It’s a cruel game, that’s what I’ve said to the players, one kick away from qualifying. It hurts,” Wales manager Rob Page told broadcaster S4C.

Earlier, Georgia made history by winning through to a major international tournament for the first time since the country in the Caucasus of 3.7 million people gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

They beat Greece 4-2 on penalties after a 0-0 draw at the end of extra time in Tbilisi, sparking a pitch invasion from delighted fans at the Boris Paichadze Stadium.

Nika Kvekveskiri stroked in the decisive penalty for Georgia after Tasos Bakasetas and Giorgos Giakoumakis both failed to score from the spot for Greece.

Surprise European champions in 2004, Greece’s defeat means their wait to qualify for a first major tournament since the 2014 World Cup goes on.

Ranked 77th in the world, a Georgia team coached by former France full-back Willy Sagnol will join Turkey, Portugal and the Czech Republic in Group F at the European Championship.

“I would pay to feel what I feel today,” said Sagnol after the game, speaking in English.

They had never come close to qualifying before, until losing in a play-off at the same stage for the last Euro, going down 1-0 at home to North Macedonia in 2020.

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